Additional Commentary on the

Sherlock/Hertzberg/Hancock Debate

SquareTwo, Vol. 1 No. 1 (Fall 2008)


3 Comments on this First Page of Comments

Second Page of Comments

Original Article by Sherlock with Hertzberg and Hancock Commentary




1) "The Men Have Muffed It: How Men's Misunderstanding of the Telos of Marriage Imperils Its Future," by V. Hudson, April 2009

Reading Sherlock, Hertzberg, and Hancock, you would think the telos of marriage was reproduction.  You find in their pieces arguments about marriage that are grounded in who’s fertile, who’s having an orgasm, who wants to have whose babies, who’s having transcendent sex.  No wonder the anti-same-sex marriage movement is faltering, with Iowa and Vermont the latest stumbles.  By missing the true telos of marriage, these men render themselves utterly incapable of protecting it.  And there’s culpability here: because men, for the most part, do not understand the true purpose of marriage, we will lose it as a societal ideal.  This is an enormously tragic example of reaping what one sows.

An eminent Ivy League scholar who is an eloquent orator in the anti-same-sex marriage movement was invited to address the student body of BYU several months ago.  Since the students were already sympathetic to the speaker’s argument, the applause was frequent and sincere.  After the address, students queued up to ask questions.  Only one was female, and her question was last.

She asked the great scholar why women should support traditional marriage when its history has been the oppression, in general, of women.  The scholar explained, and I paraphrase here, “Marriage is better than the alternatives for women,” and proceeded to launch into a description of the degraded situation of women in pagan societies.  The speaker, in essence, was telling her that marriage was the least of the evils from which women could choose.

Dejection clearly written all over her face, the student withdrew so that the speaker could go to lunch.  She had every reason to feel dejected over this wholly inadequate response.  Men’s overwhelming dominance in the anti-same-sex marriage movement, coupled with their misunderstanding of the telos of marriage, is dooming that movement to ignoble and inevitable defeat.  If American society loses the ideal of heterosexual marriage, it will be in large part because many American men never understood what it was really for.

We can blame American culture for much of this, but not when it comes to LDS men.  LDS men have clear doctrine about what marriage is for, and thus they are left with no excuse for their mishandling of this question.

In LDS doctrine, we are taught that when God married Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, He established, in the words of Elder Earl C. Tingey, “an absolute equal partnership between a husband and wife.  Eve was to be equal to Adam as a husband and wife are to be equal to each other.” [1]   President Gordon B. Hinckley taught that, “God our Eternal Father ordained that men and women should be companions.  That implies equality . . . There is no basis in the gospel for inferiority or superiority between the husband and wife.” [2]   Elder L. Tom Perry has told us that “There is not a president and vice president in a family.  We have co-presidents working together eternally for the good of their family . . . They are on equal footing.  They plan and organize the affairs of the family jointly and unanimously as they move forward.” [3]   And Elder Bruce C. Hafen, putting the icing on the cake, teaches us that the King James translation in Genesis 3:16 (“and he shall rule over thee”) is a mistranslation.  In Hafen’s words, “over in “rule over” uses the Hebrew bet, which means ruling with, not ruling over.” [4]   After her courage in partaking of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—for Mormons believe that Eve was courageous and wise in that decision, not evil or airheaded, and that God was very proud of her for her choice to partake--Eve was told that Adam would rule with her, with Adam’s earning that privilege through fulfilling his family and priesthood obligations.

So, gentlemen, Mormons have greater light and knowledge on this issue.  What we understand from our doctrine is that the telos of marriage is to ground every human family in real, lived, embodied gender equality.  And then, as a consequence, all reproduction would occur only within that context of gender equality.  If the ideal were lived, then every son and daughter of God would be born into a family that lived gender equality, and thus each would learn how to form such a relationship when they themselves came of age.  Reproduction is the fruit, not the root, of what God intended in establishing marriage. 

That is why it doesn’t matter who’s fertile, and whether a marriage of infertile people is a marriage is beside the point.  The test of whether you have a marriage or not is whether it is gender-equal monogamy. [5]

Now, you can see the problem here.  If the telos of marriage is gender equality—a teaching of how the two halves of humanity are to relate to one another so that when new members of humanity are brought forth they will be taught this correct principle from birth—then the student’s question was right on the money.  “Traditional” marriage is simply not what LDS members believe marriage is, for “traditional” marriage is based on a hierarchy of men over women, and oppression of women in all facets of society based on the template found in “marriage.”  Given the greater light and knowledge revealed to the LDS, it would be abominable to stand together with those who advocate “traditional” marriage, for it is the opposite of what marriage means, we believe, to God.

This is the great Achilles heel of all arguments about marriage that are based in reproduction.  If reproduction is the telos, then we cannot fail to note that “traditional” oppressive marriage enjoys the highest birthrates worldwide, and on that basis should be preferred.  And given the new phenomenon of Nadya Suleman, with her 14 babies by ART, we can begin to argue that there are even other arrangements that will suit the cause of reproduction as well as “traditional” marriage.

But if you take the Lord’s purpose as the true purpose of marriage, you are on much firmer ground.  There is simply no other arrangement that can ground every human family in gender equality—companionate heterosexual monogamous marriage (as the essay entitled "Some Things Which Should Not Have Been Forgotten Were Lost" in this issue terms it) is simply “it.”  No gender unequal relationship (even if it is called “marriage”) and no gender apartheid arrangement (with a person of the same sex or with no other person at all) can ground the households of the human family in gender equality.

And, as this essay shows, gender equality is not just some PC ideal.  There is good evidence that greater gender equality in marriage gave the world sustainable democracy and greater levels of interstate and intrastate peace.  Apparently, freedom and peace are the natural blessings that come from following the Lord’s version of marriage.  I won’t repeat this argument here, but urge readers to examine it carefully.

This uniquely LDS view calls for a wholesale reevaluation of the logic and the arguments of the anti-same-sex marriage movement, to the intent of improving its chances at this time of twilight.  If the movement is not put on firmer footing, with a truly adequate answer provided to that student, it will be but a memory in less than a decade.

It also matters which men make this argument, and here the LDS have a natural leadership role to play.  Those men who have failed to form an intimate, gender-equal marriage with a woman are simply not convincing advocates on this issue.  Whether this failure stems from confirmed bachelorhood, erroneous religious belief, or serial spousehood, it is very difficult to be persuaded to oppose same-sex marriage by a man who has never personally lived the true telos of marriage.  Likewise, allying with, for example, Islamic authorities who embrace a heterosexual definition of marriage, but advocate hierarchy between husband and wife, is utterly counter-productive at this point in time.  In the end, their vision of marriage is wrong-headed for the same reason as same-sex marriage—it does not promote gender equality and the sequelae of sustainable democracy and peace that attend it.

But LDS general authorities and most LDS men could be the most articulate spokespersons.  We can firmly say of our general authorities that they are all married (to women), that they live gender equality in their marriages, that they are faithful to their spouses, and that not a one of them is divorced.  This is a natural strength . . . if the LDS community—and in particular, LDS men--are able to articulate the true telos of marriage.

Richard, Ben, Ralph—the gauntlet’s down.


[1] Earl C. Tingey, "The Simple Truths from Heaven--The Lord's Pattern," CES Fireside for Young Adults, January 13, 2008, Brigham Young University,,4945,538-1-4399-1,00.html [Back to manuscript]

[2] Gordon B. Hinckley, "Make Marriage a Partnership," fireside broadcast from the Salt Lake Tabernacle, 29 January 1984, reprinted in April 1984 Ensign, pp. 75-76. [Back to manuscript]

[3] L. Tom Perry, Church News, 10 April 2004:15. [Back to manuscript]

[4] Bruce C. Hafen and Marie K. Hafen, Ensign, August 2007, “Crossing Thresholds and Becoming Equal Partners,” 24-29, [Back to manuscript]

[5] Gender-equal polygamy being an oxymoron, and in Mormon doctrine, rightly understood as an Abrahamic sacrifice for which there will always be a ram in the thicket (see D&C 132). [Back to manuscript]


2) Commentary by Richard Chun-Ling Chiu, April 2009

I find myself bemused by the rather tired state of the debate over homosexual marriage. I not only believe that the prophets are correct about the divine sanction of covenant marriage and the consequences of abandoning it, I also believe the scriptures make the purpose of marriage very clear. "Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord." The purpose of marriage is not simple reproduction. The purpose of marriage is so that men and women can learn to live together and strive for a common objective (usually childrearing).

If reproduction alone were the basis on which we ought to judge the form marriage should take, the best form would be a matriarchal collective in which all children would be obliged to contribute back to their mothers' collective throughout their lifespan. The matriarchal collective would select fathers seasonally on whatever basis appealed to the mothers in the collective (those declining a particular father would be free to assist the takers in their childbearing). Sons would be raised with the aim that they achieve the highest degree of attractiveness to other collectives, daughters would be raised to support and eventually join the matriarchal collective.

Although such an arrangement would be efficient for reproduction, there is almost no evidence that any society has been able to make it work for very long. Part of this is due to the fact that the society resulting from this manner of childrearing is extremely unstable due to the lack of any mechanism to curb the violent competitive tendencies of human males. Indeed, it is almost calculated to produce a male population of the most ruthless and desperate disposition imaginable, a combination that leads rapidly to revolution. But it would be unwise to rely on lessons learned from theories about unknown societies.

History teaches us that the greatest danger to any society is the unmarried male population. So any civilization must consider how to reduce the size of that segment of society simply as a matter of insuring its own survival. Encouraging monogamy is certainly one answer, though there are others (most of which are literally atrocious). But our primary interest, not just as Latter Day Saints but as compassionate individuals, should not be in preserving society but in helping to further the spiritual development of God's children. This journal's article by V. H. Cassler is instructive in its attention to the pervasive moral dimension of a society's marriage arrangements. I highly recommend it to anyone tempted to imagine a society can long enjoy liberty while ignoring basic morality.

The man or woman who cannot learn to live and work together with a member of the opposite sex is a spiritual cripple, just as much as any other hardened bigot. The difference is that men and women have far less in common with each other than with members of their own sex of whatever race, religion, or culture. The potential for adverse interaction is also higher, such that the manner and degree of intermingling has to be carefully controlled to avert serious consequences. One cannot simply force men and women to cohabit and expect anything but the very worst results. Or rather, whatever one expects, the results will probably not be very good.

Hence the manner in which men and women live together must be carefully regulated, yet encouraged. This is the purpose of all marriage arrangements, whether the reproductive slavery practiced in some cultures or the ideal of covenant marriage to which Latter Day Saints should at least profess to aspire. Whatever other benefits might be claimed by arrangements which do not feature a man and woman living together and working towards a common goal (and there are many such arrangements worthy of respect), it cannot be claimed that such an arrangement helps men and women to learn how to live and work with one another.

Given that learning to overcome the natural division between men and women is such an important feature in our spiritual development, it is worth considering what social arrangements are in place to prepare children for marriage. The child raised without constant access to an example of a man and woman living and working together is greatly disadvantaged. On the other hand, the child raised by two loving parents who also demonstrate the potential relationship between a man and woman has a great advantage. So allowing for children to be raised in marriage extends the proper function of the marriage to the next generation. This increases the social efficiency of marriage, but does not replace the central function. Even in a childless marriage, the man and woman enjoy the central benefit of learning to live together in common purpose.

But enough of the argument in favor of marriage. What of the argument that our morality should inform our support for various laws? I must admit that I'm very puzzled by the suggestion that anyone should ever support the passage of any law they felt to have an immoral effect. Perhaps I'm missing something in all these arguments that we should avoid letting morality determine what laws we wish to support. What is the point of any law in the first place other than to prevent behavior we find immoral? I would much rather have no laws at all than have laws promoting immorality, and I am hard pressed to understand the thinking of anyone who believes that laws have some other purpose than promoting some idea or other of what is morally right.

Even the preservation of society (which I touch above) is only valuable because of the moral stance that society is superior to anarchy. I do not share this view, nor should any serious student of the scriptures, there even total destruction of a population is divinely sanctioned as better than a throughly depraved society. But whether or not one believes it, it is a moral judgment like any other.

Still, as I read the arguments which try to finesse the law away from any moral judgments, I'm troubled by the sense that we are being encouraged to regard the incubation of evil as a positive good. There is a certain devilish argument that our freedom, which is good, depends on being tempted by evil choices, were we only attracted to good options, we wouldn't really be free. On the face of it this argument is clearly false. Even if only our good options are made attractive, we still can choose the evil ones. There has never been a civilization in which necrophilia was promoted, and it is fundamentally revolting to human nature, yet some do make that choice.

Furthermore, the essential nature of bad choices, understood from the perspective of a theology informed by revelations concerning God's purposes, is that they make us less free. Some may do so by enslaving the body so that our rational faculties have no chance of controlling our physical cravings, others do so by blinding our perceptions so that we lose sight of the consequences of our actions, still others do so by teaching us to hate or despise freedom itself. Exactly how are we disparaging our freedom when we seek to avoid being tempted into courses of action which will destroy it?

The truth, though I should hesitate to say it, is that those who make such an argument may have already fallen prey to one of those subtle sins which inculcate a contempt for real freedom. Still others who repeat such arguments may simply be naive (though of course Christ, in the choice words He gives us, warns against that danger as well). Though in saying this perhaps I am neither wise as a dove nor harmless as a serpent.


3) Commentary by Ralph C. Hancock, May 2009

On Equality and Eternal Lives: A Reply to Valerie Hudson

In her disappointment that we men did not sufficiently address the nature of the marital relationship itself (heterosexual, monogamous, companionate), I worry that my friend and colleague Valerie Hudson risks exaggerating our differences rather than composing them, or at least trying better to understand and thus possibly to minimize them. I hope I am not as ignorant of the “true purpose of marriage” as she suggests. Since Prof. Hudson knows me not to be either a “confirmed bachelor” or involved in “serial spousehood,” she seems at first to attribute my cognitive shortcomings to some failure to “personally live the true telos of marriage,” though in the end she seems to exempt all three of us from this biographical explanation. Her rather broad statement that “men, for the most part, do not understand the true purpose of marriage” (not to mention her very … broad title) might seem to be a counsel of despair (not to mention unproductive provocation), but I will set that discouraging thought aside in favor of her more hopeful concluding call for assistance – or even leadership -- from us LDS men in articulating that purpose.

I am confident that Prof. Hudson and I agree very substantially on the good of marriage, and so I am mystified by her determination to leave the impression that we are fundamentally at odds. Contrary to the sense one would get from Valerie Hudson’s characterization of my position, I do not recall making any arguments against equality between husband and wife, and I do not think that my arguments against equality between normal marriages and same-sex unions somehow counts against my belief in equality within normal marriages. No doubt I could have said more about the intrinsic good of marriage, if I had not been so preoccupied with the task of refuting arguments for the public legitimacy of same-sex “marriage”. In any case, Prof. Hudson’s challenge provides the opportunity at least to begin to remedy that defect.

Despite our fundamental agreement, it does seem that Prof. Hudson is more eager than I to make the language of equality central to our praise of the goods of marriage. She is right to remind us of clear and emphatic statements by General Authorities concerning equality between husband and wife. But none of these, in my view, quite amounts to her affirmation that “gender equality is the telos of marriage (my emphasis).” Since Prof. Hudson’s praise of “gender-equal monogamy” seems overall quite consonant with the views expressed in the Cassler essay (published here), let me point out that in Cassler’s argument (drawing upon the important work of Sylviane Agacinski), the very understanding of a “free person” is grounded in the concept of “generation.” “We cannot speak of freedom intelligibly or usefully unless we speak of freedom’s integral relation to generation,” Cassler writes. I could not be more in agreement. And a corollary seems to me clearly to follow: we cannot speak of equality (among free persons) without speaking of the integral relation of equality to generation. “Generation in the right context grounds ethics as well as freedom.” Cassler goes so far as to call upon men to join women in renouncing autonomy in favor of “the common project of generation.”

To be sure, Cassler is careful to specify that it is “generation in this special context of gender equality” that is “the foundation of freedom…” (my emphasis). But is there any meaningful “context of gender equality” that is not already rooted (as we learn from Agacinski) in “fecundity” or “the common project of generation”?

Though hazardous, it is inevitable that one consult personal experience in coming to terms with the question of the good of marriage in relation to the concepts “equality” and “generation.” And I would have to say that my dear Julie and I, for at least 33 years of our 33 ½ years of marriage, have been more pre-occupied with the latter than with the former. Of course by “generation” I do not mean to isolate the act of joining sperm and egg (which to be sure, in the right context, has much to recommend it), but to include rather the whole, life-consuming business of bearing (admittedly Julie gets most of the credit on this first point, though I have been a most attentive hand-holder at every birth), training, educating, supporting, loving, comforting, worshipping with and praying with the embodied spirits who are miraculously entrusted to our care. We are blessed that some of these children are already now parents who have assumed their roles in carrying forward the blessed, infinitely challenging, soul-stretching process of “generation” or “reproduction,” formerly known as “the continuation of the seed.” I know that there are sweet and noble companionships uninvolved in the struggles and blessings of this work of reproduction broadly understood, including marriages that look forward to blessings of procreation in a future stage of existence. Still I think, on grounds that Cassler’s Agacinski helps me better understand, there is no partnership so rich and meaningful as a partnership consecrated to fecundity. That fact that Julie and I are not focused on “equality,” does not of course mean that this concept, rightly understood, is not important, but it does seem to indicate that, for us at least, as for Cassler, equality in the full, gospel sense involves partnership in a self-offering engagement in some larger world or worlds of meaning.

So I suppose that I might as well just plead guilty to being much more stirred by the overwhelming beauty and burden of this shared task of reproduction-rightly-understood than I am by the bare idea of “equality.” It seems to me that Agacinski is right that all true ethical concepts, including the notion of equality, draw their spiritual, life-giving significance from the vast, super-abundant context that Latter-day Saints name “eternal lives.” Latter-day Saints, including, I am sure, Prof. Hudson, understand that our equality is not some open-ended claim of rights but is to be understood in relation to some shared vision and some shared task. And I cannot conceive any remotely adequate interpretation of Latter-day Saint teaching in which reproduction, “eternal lives,” is not central to this vision and task. Thus Elder Hafen states, in the chapter “Equal Partners” of a beautiful and wise book I recommend to all readers (Covenant Hearts, Deseret Book 2005), that “Marriage is a partnership of equals whose most essential roles both revolve around their families.” (177) I note that this understanding of equality is anchored in – yes, rooted in – a prior conception of substantial and differentiated functions and duties; here equality is clearly understood in the service of that “everlasting dominion” which is meant to flow “ ‘without compulsory means’ … with love and spiritual life unto [husband and wife] and their posterity, ‘forever and ever’” (p. 178, my emphasis). For me this praise in D&C 121 of an “everlasting dominion … without compulsory means” most adequately evokes what I think Prof. Hudson and I are both pointing to when we speak of the ideal of “equality” in marriage – a kind of abundant relationship, constructively engaged in world of meaning, unhindered by sin, unconstricted by any narrow self-concern. I yield to none in my admiration of Eve, the mother of us all, but you would hardly know from Prof. Hudson’s insistence on the term “equality” that Eve places reproduction at the center of her rejoicing: “Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.” (Moses 5:11)

I might therefore be inclined directly to contradict Valerie Hudson’s statements by affirming that reproduction is not only the fruit, but in some sense indeed the root of marriage divinely understood. But I sense again that such efforts at conceptual clarification might lead us to exaggerate our differences by somehow setting generation and equality at odds; perhaps it is finally a quibble to argue the priority of one concept to the other. Clearly “reproduction,” when severed from loving union, is hardly an adequate description of life’s purpose. So what finally matters is that both Prof. Hudson and I recognize that the true meaning of each of these terms is bound up with the other; “equality” and “fecundity” can both be seen as ways of addressing the abundant charity and unity of this ultimate covenanted bond. Perhaps there is a sense in which each is prior to the other: the meaning of fecundity is bound up with the preciousness of every person, every eternal, embodied spirit, and the very meaning of the equal worth of persons in turn draws upon the gift of fecundity.

It should be clear, then, that I wholly embrace the implications of marital “equality” understood in this rich way. Nevertheless, I believe that in our contemporary world the term “equality” tends to take on certain meanings that threaten to undermine the rich vision that Prof. Hudson means to evoke by that very term. Certainly by “equality” she does not mean to imply sameness; nor is she pre-occupied with the vocabulary of rights. And yet there are strong reasons why, in contemporary usage, the language of equality tends to fall into an orbit around a notion of rights that finally implies sameness. As I seek now to explain this risk inherent in the term “equality,” I ask the reader not to forget the higher vision I share with Prof. Hudson of the co-determination of equality and fecundity, properly understood.

First of all, the language of “equality,” when it does not indicate simple identity or sameness, tends to be associated with juridical and political language of justice and of rights, and with the conflictual claims and counter-claims proper to law and politics. (The first two meanings under “equality” in the OED refer to identical quantities and then to sameness in rank or rights.) But, as Aristotle already understood, the political vocabulary of justice is not appropriate to a higher relationship such as friendship. One might say that at its best the quality of a human partnership transcends concern for e-quality. (The highest friendship, for Aristotle, is a friendship among equals – but not just any equals; such friendship is only possible among “the best,” those devoted to the highest activities and thus possessing a determinate virtue or order of the soul.) And certainly there is no relationship higher than the charitable fecund unity of celestial marriage.

Moreover, our contemporary usage of the term “equality” is shaped by a specific political conception arising from the philosophical foundations of the modern West, a conception grounded in the notion of individual rights. Without attempting to provide a complete history of modern liberalism, let me simply propose that the modern idea of equality is from its origins fused with the modern idea of freedom. Thus the idea that grounds modern liberal-democratic institutions and practices and tends to infuse the vocabulary and the thinking of us all (including Republicans) as liberal-democrats (whether we recognize it at all—indeed especially when we do not) might be said to be “equal-freedom.” John Locke learned from Thomas Hobbes to ground human rights in a “state of nature” prior to all governing norms or authoritative purposes; in this state each individual is equally free to govern him- or herself, because this state is defined precisely by the absence of any governing, authoritative norms or purposes that pre-modern teachings would have attributed to God or Nature.

Thus we inherit from the founders of liberalism a deep association, virtually a fusion between the idea of equality and that of freedom. But this “freedom” is not at all the very purposive freedom of mutually dependent unity bound up with fecundity that Cassler has helped us articulate, but precisely a freedom from all higher or authoritative purposes, the freedom of the “individual” to seek or define his own ends. In early or “classic” versions of liberalism, as in John Locke, these ends are taken to be determined by our physical natures and thus presumed to consist in material comfort and security. In later versions of liberalism (John Stuart Mill’s is a notable example), human beings are invited to invent or “create” whatever ends each might chooses, which in effect implies (as we find in Nietzsche and 20th century existentialism, and even, alas, in at least one pronouncement of the U.S. Supreme Court) a claim virtually to create oneself, to be author of the meaning of one’s own existence.

Ironically, this extreme doctrine of the individual’s freedom to determine meaning tends to undermine all serious and substantive conceptions of life’s meaning and all attendant obligations, forcing all “lifestyles” into the same mold of mere personal “preferences.” Equality as the equal right to define oneself is incompatible with any authoritative understanding of life’s purpose, and it lends itself to the evolution of society towards a regime of selfish competition. On close consideration, it should not be surprising that this is where liberal egalitarianism ends up, since this is where it starts: not with real human beings in their wholeness, male and female, parent and child, but with an implicit reduction of humanity to competitive males abstracted from all human dependency.

This review of the source and meaning of modern “equality” is not, again, meant to deny that equality “in the bonds of heavenly [and earthly] things” (D&C 78:5) is a sacred and beautiful idea, though one not typically emphasized in scripture in relation to marriage. The emphasis on equality in the important statements by General Authorities that Sister Hudson has cited is clearly necessary as a correction and remedy against men’s all-too-common abuses of certain natural advantages they hold, and, even worse, their abuses of the authority they derive or think they derive from the priesthood. Thus, much of the emphasis on equality we hear from our priesthood leaders is addressed to priesthood holders who must be reminded not to confuse priesthood responsibility with a persistent temptation to unrighteous dominion. Professor Hudson knows more about abuses of male power than I do, and I value her important perspective and information, on the global scale as well as closer to home. But severed from the vision of Eternal Lives that we share, “equality” risks being informed by a very secular, rights-based individualism alien to the gospel. Any friendship, indeed any partnership, can claim the formal attribute of equality – including, notably, same-sex unions. Human associations can be utterly, even fanatically devoted to the ideal of “equality” without coming within earshot of the revealed truth about the purpose of human existence.

Clearly much of the dissonance, real or apparent, between Prof. Hudson and me can be accounted for in terms of different judgments regarding our broadly political circumstances and priorities; these differences cause us to emphasize different features of the relationship between our shared spiritual vision and our perceptions of the political and social facts on the ground. She bristles at any positive use of the term “traditional,” whereas I have no compunction about defending a certain “tradition” -- that of heterosexual marriage -- for all its faults, against radical innovations I regard as disastrous. Prof. Hudson seems again to follow Cassler (and thus Wrangham and Peterson’s Demonic Males), with whom I disagree on this point. Cassler sets up an absolute dichotomy between “traditional” marriage, on the one hand, which she identifies with the unbridled male dominance of the natural or “evolutionary” model, and, on the other hand, the possibility of a “socially engineered” “gender-equal monogamy.” But if this companionate ideal is a real possibility, then it must be grounded in some way in our actual natures, or the better angels of our natures, both male and female, and so cannot be the absolute innovation Hudson seems to imply it is (at least in our post-lapsarian world). In fact Cassler’s sources, Mary S. Hartman and John Hajnal, appear to trace the institution of companionate marriage back to 12th century Europe, which is certainly old enough for me to link it with a certain “tradition.”

Now, it may seem that I am introducing another mere verbal quibble by scrutinizing Prof. Hudson’s dichotomy between the bad (evolutionary-traditional) and the good (socially engineered-equal). But I think something essential is in fact at stake here. For to oppose the equal to the traditional, as Prof. Hudson insists on doing, is obviously to increase the risk of associating the equal with the extreme liberal or liberationist commitment to the equal right of each individual to define his or her own existence. Of course I know this is not her intention, but philosophical assumptions will carry us in their wake if we do not master them.

The main philosophical question at stake in the opposition that Prof. Hudson sets up or echoes between “tradition” and “equality” is the question of priority between duties and rights. All traditional societies (I mean more or less civilized ones, not packs of cavemen) are structured by some understanding of authoritative purposes and their attendant duties or obligations, in some measure attuned to the needs of human society (including reproduction) and the potentialities of human nature (including male and female differences). Such an implicit framework of norms and purposes precedes all rights and thus determines the horizon of human meaning. Modern liberalism attempts to reverse this priority and thus to reduce all duty to a mere instrumental construction (engineering) serving rights-bearing individuals.

To be sure, the problem of traditional duties vs. modern rights is complicated for us by the fact that our tradition is a distinctively modern tradition. As Alexis de Tocqueville showed better than anyone else, the genius of America has consisted in the incorporation of substantial elements of tradition (religious beliefs, moral standards, self-governing participation in communal goods) under cover, so to speak, of a quite modern vocabulary of equal rights. Thus American constitutionalism, understood as rooted in a specific moral and religious culture, has, for all its defects and limitations, provided a truly unique example of a kind of practical synthesis of traditional duties with modern equal rights. The society that flourished within such a synthesis nourished an emerging ideal of companionate marriage by increasingly applying the doctrine of equality to the question of that status of women, while sustaining the authority of family-friendly moral norms and role expectations. However, over time, and with a new and very visible insistence in the 1960s and 70s, the norm of free equality began to detach itself from and therefore found itself opposed to the traditional duties and purposes in which it has long been embedded.

The survival within the American political community at once “traditional” and rights-based of a certain limited but essential sense of the priority of duties to rights is consistent with a stable, shared conception of the different natures and roles of men and women; the concept of “social engineering,” like its original, the idea of a “social contract,” implies a pure rights-based conception of norms, according to which all duties are instrumental human constructions. Thus the rejection of “tradition” in favor of “social engineering” is tied to a conception of society according to which each individual, male or female, must have a right to define his or her own “lifestyle,” including a free choice of gender role and even identity. This is my understanding of the situation we face today: the once reasonable assertion of equal freedom strives to emancipate itself from all traditional and religious limitations. If forced to choose between, on the one hand, the imperfect but somewhat wholesome differentiation between male and female roles and natures that evolved within the American tradition of freedom, a differentiation that assigned to each certain presumptive responsibilities in bearing and caring for and providing for children, and, on the other, the idea that every individual can make up the meaning of life for her/himself, with no regard to the stability of marriage or the good of children, then I am ready to prefer the former, “traditional” option. This political and moral judgment and this imperfect choice I think account for the whole difference between Prof. Hudson’s approach and my own.

Now, Prof. Hudson might well reply that we are by no means forced to make such a choice between imperfect tradition (which I think we ought to continue to refine and improve, guided by the gospel vision) and liberation from tradition. She seems to think that we can liberate ourselves from any politically authorized tradition and rely wholly, on an explicit vision of a marital ideal, to be embraced as a purely conscious choice, individual by individual. But I think that there is no escaping our responsibility for just such a choice between the better elements of an available tradition and the emancipation of individuals from authoritative norms. This is the way the broader moral-political agenda is set for us, whether we like it or not. The ethic or anti-ethic of extreme individualism or liberationism is a tidal wave that will carry everything with it if we do not very deliberately oppose it and muster all available social and religious resources, against it, including alliances with friends of different faiths.

The question between us is complicated by the fact that Prof. Hudson and I find ourselves, inevitably, addressing two related but distinct questions at once – the political question and the religious question. If the point were not already obvious, the issue of same-sex marriage (which, let us recall, is what gave rise to the present discussion) has reminded us that these questions can in no simple way be separated. Prof. Hudson seems in one sense almost to fuse them, proceeding as if our religious and our more general social ideal can be simply one and the same thing: “gender-equal monogamy.” I think it best to respect the distinction between the religious and the political and then to do our best to hold together or at least to co-ordinate our political responsibilities and our ultimate religious ideals. If we are not careful about making the distinction, then the ethic of individualism will tend to seep into our understanding of higher religious norms and purposes.

Rather than countenance a blanket rejection of “tradition,” and thus make common cause with liberationists (even if unintentionally), I think it best to consider the value of what we risk destroying in our contempt for “tradition.” Is it not possible that, say, our grandparents’ generation of Latter-day Saints had some very fine marriages, loving unions progressing towards the celestial, without the partners’ focusing very explicitly on the goal of “equality.” I even think that many of our grandmothers enjoyed much more influence and dignity in a world in which a certain prominence of men in public life was assumed (a grave insult to the liberal sameness of equal rights, to be sure) than is true of women in the world we are now making, a world in which equality is interpreted, almost inevitably, as sameness, and sameness as a kind of boundlessness and bondlessness, a corrupted emulation of corrupt male independence. In this latter world, a woman’s right to “equality” translates effectively, all too often, as the right, for example, of a man, after impregnating a woman, to leave her alone with her “right” to provide for or to dispose of the fruit of her womb as she likes -- free, to be sure, from any male authority as well as solicitude. Modern equality, liberated from all defining substance, drifts irresistibly in the direction of freedom from all bonds, human or sacred. While I think I am alert to the injustices inherent in many a traditional social norm, I also think that we have only just begun to count the cost of rejecting traditional norms in favor of individual, genderless “liberation.”

As Elder Hafen has written, “neither the traditional Victorian model of marriage nor the modern liberationist model is sound, theologically or psychologically.” (171) Obviously the Restored Gospel improves substantially on both these models. At the same time, my judgment is that the audience I assume I am mainly addressing, the rising generation either living in late-liberal democracies or otherwise powerfully influenced by them, is much more likely to be drawn to or drawn into the modern liberationist than to the “Victorian” model. And so I declare myself in favor of pursuing a gospel ideal of gender-equal monogamy by refining and improving our gender-differentiating traditions, preserving what was good in them, not judging them peremptorily by the standard of some abstract “equality” in such a way as to fall into the lap of “the modern liberationist model.”

That said, I grant that the liberationist drift is not the only problem we face; there will be an inevitable tendency of certain young Latter-day Saints raised in more conservative or “traditional” Mormon households to react to insecurities produced by the world’s increasingly extreme individualism by asserting, on what they think are grounds of religious authority, a simplistic and brittle model of male/female role differentiation. This is the Charybdis we must steer away from while avoiding the Scylla of liberationism. Men will be tempted to skirt the challenge of husbanding a wife’s manifold potential by insisting narrowly on her responsibilities in the home, and some women may accept such a narrow construction of their roles in order to be relieved of the challenge of developing their talents not directly related to homemaking. In counseling each other and our youth we are blessed with a clear prophetic statement (The Family: A Proclamation to the World) that “in these sacred [parental and spousal] responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners,” a statement allowing for adjustment to “circumstances [that] may necessitate individual adaptation.”

Given this affirmation of equal partnership and of adaptability to circumstances, some may want to conclude that the definition of male and female roles and of the purpose of marriage is purely a matter of individual interpretation, or a matter that belongs purely to a woman’s conscience and to God. But I think this is goes too far. If this spiritually individualistic view were the case, then the very clear guidance provided by the Family Proclamation would not be needed. What is at stake here is the priority of the rule to exceptions from it. While admitting the legitimacy of exceptions and of a couple’s right prayerfully to determine such exceptions, let us not weaken the power of the rule itself. For example: “We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiple and replenish the earth remains in force.” Moreover, “by divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children…” All personal revelation must conform to scripture and prophetic authority, and I do not see why matters of individual conscience related to familial purposes and duties should be an exception.

Most importantly, any allowances for adaptation to circumstances must not lose sight of the first and main point of the Proclamation, namely, that “marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of his children.” The fact that this Proclamation does not expound on the importance of either men or women developing talents and pursuing goals unconnected with their familial purposes and duties does not of course mean that such concerns are unimportant or in any way illegitimate. But it certainly does help us to clarify priorities. All individual and familial adaptations to circumstances should be grounded in a prior commitment to these priorities. To set aside these revealed standards and purposes would be a step toward embracing equality as a right to self-definition over the fecund equality of divine familial love.

“Now we have a world where people are confused. / If you don’t believe it, go and watch the news.” Our traditions have many defects, which the Gospel alone can remedy, but on the questions on which the greatest confusion reigns, questions concerning the meaning of purpose of gender and sexuality, questions of the primary purposes and duties of men and women as men and women, an emphasis on liberation from traditions – even when cast in terms of individual “conscience” -- just increases the confusion. If the Proclamation, in its concluding words, calls upon us as “responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society,” then the implication is unmistakable that something already exists to “maintain and strengthen,” something that is not reducible to sheer “evolutionary” male dominance.

What a blessing is the Family Proclamation! Anticipating a growing confusion in our world regarding the purposes of sexuality and sexual difference, a confusion therefore regarding the very purpose of human existence, this prophetic declaration sets forth with maximum clarity the very keys to substantial and long-term well-being, “the divine plan of happiness,” a plan centered on a family consisting of husband, wife, and children. What a blessing to be warned so clearly against the distractions and false hopes of selfish gratifications, social experimentation or engineering, and hollow ambitions!

“Fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.” Now, that’s my kind of equality: an equal partnership in differentiated duties of eternal – and eternally reproductive -- consequence! Removed from such a rich and authoritative framework defining the duties of marital partnership, my worry is that “equality” too easily becomes a tool of rival “rights,” that is, or selfish interests or of a blind quest for some formless and elusive individual fulfillment. I have already noted that the application of this divine template is also vulnerable to unrighteous interpretation, and thus susceptible of all sorts of accommodations to the needs and circumstances of particular families. Men need and deserve repeated warnings against self-serving interpretations of this divine differentiation. Still, we must take great care not to allow the a preoccupation with an inadequately specified “equality” to inflect our energies in a worldly direction that changes the framing context from one of duties embedded in an understanding of the eternal purpose of sexual differences to one of rights abstracted from higher purposes. That way lie emptiness, contention and despair, the utter wasting of the whole earth at the Lord’s coming.


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